For All Mankind Premiere: Shantel VanSanten Talks Karen’s Big Bet and Stunning Loss
Sure, Top Gun and Jurassic World: Dominion are pumping adrenaline into theaters this summer, but Apple TV+ is making your living room as exciting as any big theater.
For All Mankind Season 3 Episode 1 is a heart-pounding space catastrophe of epic proportions.
In the ten off-screen years since the events in For All Mankind Season 2, a lot has happened.
On a personal level, Karen and Ed’s marriage dissolved and both remarried.
Danielle has remarried, too, with a husband and stepson she adores.
And in spite of and because of Tracy and Gordo Steven’s heroic deaths, the interest in expanding our horizons has increased, and the impossible has been achieved.
While NASA and the Soviets have prepared to conquer Mars, Karen and her new husband, Sam, have created the first orbiting space station hotel, The Polaris.
The premiere gathers all of these characters for a dream wedding for Danny Stevens.
Coming together for such a joyous occasion was the perfect opportunity to show viewers that space, while conquerable, isn’t something to do lightly.
After a string of seemingly unrelated events, The Polaris begins showing weakness, and it compounds into a terrorizing misadventure claiming lives and destroying the hotel.
The premiere is an all-encompassing catastrophic adventure that on other shows would be saved for a season finale.
During For All Mankind Season 3 press day, we had the opportunity to gather interviews for the season as it progresses, and this week, we’re featuring Shantal VanSanten, who has had an incredible series arc as Karen Baldwin, once a housewife watching the space race at her husband Ed’s side and on television.
My, how things have changed.
The premiere was just epic in scale. Absolutely epic.
What did you think when you first learned that Karen would be running a hotel in space?
As shocked as I was at first because the writers do this incredible thing where each season I feel like a completely different Karen until I take time and settle into the choice of where I am now at the beginning of each season.
And after I sat with it, I thought this actually makes so much sense. Of course, she started off taking care of a home. She was like a very doting mother and wife.
And the next season, we see her move on from the extension of caring for a home and now owning a business where she still cared for customers, people, and employees.
But we see her get this little spark of business and being proud to help pay off a mortgage and contributing and being inspired by all the women and friends she’s had who take the risks, who are going into spaces that are completely unknown.
And then we get to Season 3. And of course, after all of the loss she has experienced, she reinvents herself and is so resilient. Of course, this is where we would find her.
It now makes sense to me that this is who has always been inside her, but she never felt she could take the risk to become. Maybe that’s something that I feel because I’ve lived with her for four years and through 23 years of Karen’s life.
But yeah, I think that this is who she is at her core. She just never had the opportunity or felt she could step into these types of roles in the world and it was paved by the women who led the way before her and inspired her.
Okay. So you mentioned she suffered some significant losses. She lost her son.
Her marriage dissolved.
Her best friend, yes. Not to mention the life that happens in between each season. And the things like going into this season I was like, Karen’s gone through menopause. Karen probably has lost her parents if she didn’t already. There were stories that I had to sit with and make up.
That way when you meet her ten years later it’s not just, “Oh, she has gray hair and wrinkles and now is on a floating space hotel and on the cover of Forbes and all these things.”
There are little tiny nuances of life that we never talk about, and I had to make sure that I thought through for the experience of watching Karen.
That’s why I love talking to you, though. You put so much of yourself into your characters.
That’s so sweet. Listen, I don’t know where I learned that. Nobody taught me in an acting class to prepare me for a role like this where you have to flesh out a human being for ten years of an absence that an audience never sees but is so important to me.
And there were times when I felt utterly crazy for thinking about it. I’ll be doing a workout. And I’m like, “You know what? She probably went to Africa and went on this trip and learned this thing.”
And that’s where the motto came forward of wanting to do this part of her business. I literally go on an imaginary tangent of Karen.
I love that.
It’s surprising and exciting, and I love creating, and it’s what I live for. And so even if nobody knows the song that she sang in 1988, as she drove away from signing her divorce papers, I know.
What was it?
It was Hold On by Wilson Phillips.
Oh great. Oh, that’s wonderful.
Yes. It’s also wonderful because I have memories from the ’90s. And I remember, for instance, where I was when that song was playing sometimes.
There are things now — what my parents felt watching the first season of the show — that I get to feel, like historical events that changed history or a character that I remember. And that part is really exciting about the evolution of the show.
With everything that goes on in the first episode, now Karen’s dealing with a whole different level of loss again. Now she’s lost somebody else that she loved, people that she cared for deeply, and the business that she created.
What’s going through her mind at this point? And how hard will it be to pick herself up and brush herself off and move on to her next adventure?
Yeah, that was the toughest thing for me to wrestle with. Starting off this episode, we see that the marriage is over. They still have a friendship, but the marriage is over. That was a loss.
Then we see this beautiful new business adventure that she’s on. And at the end of this episode, she loses it again. And what the audience didn’t get to see was the 10 years of blood, sweat, tears, working with Sam, everything that led to that moment.
And it was so important to me, more than any season to truly build the life in between because there had to be so much history there, especially alone. And if Karen is nothing else, she is resilient.
She knows and understands loss. That does not mean it gets easier. I myself have experienced a tremendous amount of loss. I lost my grandfather while shooting this season.
Oh, I’m so sorry.
It’s okay. It’s okay, life happens. If anything, I remember just thinking how time doesn’t stop and life moves on, and you pick your boots up and you put one foot in front of the other, day after day, and you learn resilience from loss. And it does get easier. Grief still happens.
But I think that we have seen Karen overcome; that’s always going to be a theme in her life. That’ll never end. She may be stubborn but is very resilient and resourceful.
I think that as we see the season go on, we watch how she gets to overcome once again, much like we did. It’s a common theme throughout our entire show.
We started off our show losing the moon. And what does loss mean? Like, losing sometimes means winning in the end because of the way that our heart has to overcome. It’s a really beautiful theme in a grand scheme on our show, but on the character level, I know has spoken to me time and time again.
Do you think there’s anything that could be put in her path that she would not be able to overcome?
My first instinct is to say no because you want to believe that you can overcome anything. But I don’t know because I think that the For All Mankind world we live in progresses so quickly that I never know what’s going to get thrown at her.
For each script that I get, I’m usually in shock about at least one or two things, even if they’re not my own. So I would like to say that I believe she could, but how do we know the depth or the strength of a human heart and what becomes too much?
I think that she’s maybe one of the strongest women I’ve been honored to breathe life into and experience and play, far stronger than I am. I would like to believe that she could and she would always overcome and come out the other end better and stronger for it.
Thank you so much for talking with me today.
Thank you. Oh, so lovely.
Do not give up creating your backstories. I live for them.
Oh, no, I won’t. Someday I do them because someday I’m like, “Someday somebody’s going to want to read this shit”. [laughs]
Like the imaginary world that I’ve created, by the way, for each character. It’s been this way. But I don’t know. I think since I was a little girl and I lived on a farm and you had the wood space above a grain bin and that became your castle or your mansion.
I’ve just always had fantastical imagination and ideas and this is just a medium that I get to express it in and I feel so fortunate.
New episodes of For All Mankind drop on Fridays, only on Apple TV+.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She’s a member of the Critic’s Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.